French River Cruise 2014!

Follow Luelle and I on an exiting Old World River Cruise through France!

Actually this blog will cover two cruises on French Rivers.   First we did the Bordeaux Cruise on the River Royale.   That meant flying non-stop from our Dulles airport to Paris and then to Bordeaux.    An alternative would have been flying to Paris and then getting the train down to Bordeaux.

After the Bordeaux cruise, we flew to Marseilles for the Burgundy and Provence cruise.   Once again, the train would have been an option.  Uniworld cruises always include transfers to and from the airport.  It’s nice to get off the plane and be met by a smiling Uniworld  person who directs you straight to the bus and straight to the ship.   Same thing when you leave.   They deliver you straight to the Airport, handling the bags both ways.   It’s nice to not have to think about catching the right train or tram or taxi.    But usually you will want to do something either before or after your cruise.    Many folks on this trip are doing a few nights in Paris before or after their cruise.    Then you have a lot of options,  plane, train, or rental car.    If you’re interested, Luelle knows the connections and has some opinions about the best way to avoid jet lag and arrive rested.

To view pictures of our Bordeaux Cruise click here.

To view pictures of our Burgundy and Provence Cruise click here.


This map shows these two cruise locations in France.


The Bordeaux cruise goes up two rivers which join in the estuary, the Dordogne and the Garonne.    The Burgundy and Provence cruise goes up the Rhone River from Marseille to Lyon.

Here’s the River Royale docked in Bordeaux.

Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 7.58.39 AM


Here’s the Catherine at her inaugural cruise just 5 weeks ago.
Then we boarded Uniworld’s fantastic new Super Ship the S.S. Catherine through Burgundy and Provence!

Then we boarded Uniworld’s fantastic new Super Ship the S.S. Catherine through Burgundy and Provence!

Our final voyage is be aboard the S.S. Catherine was christened during an elegant ceremony on March 27, 2014.

Ship Facts

Inauguration: 2014
Length: 443 ft
Width: 37.5 ft
Voltage: 110/220 volts
Guests: 159
Staff: 57
Royal Suite: 1 (410 sq ft)
Suites: 5 (305 sq ft)
Categories 1 – 3 Staterooms: 61 (194 sq ft)
Categories 4 – 5 Staterooms: 13 (162 sq ft) Camargue Deck:
• All Suites and Category 1 staterooms and have full open-air balconies that with the touch of a button raises the glass to create a completely enclosed conservatory.
• Suites and the Royale Suite also offer the option for triple accommodations.
• Category 2 staterooms on this deck have French balconies.

Avignon Deck:
Staterooms have French balconies.

Check back here for more about our exciting French River Cruise Adventure!

To view our previous travel blogs select from recent posts listed at the bottom of the right sidebar of our home page.


Day Trip To Haarlem, Netherlands & The Corrie Ten Boom House (The Hiding Place)

At the end of our trip along the Danube from Bucharest to Vienna, we stopped in Amsterdam for a few days before returning home.  Actually we jetted right past home and went to California for our twice annual family reunion at Shaver Lake in the Sierra Nevada outside of Fresno.

From the train between Amsterdam and Haarlem. I thought the contrast of the factory smokestacks and the windmills was worth a photo. There are lots of windmills in the Netherlands. Some old ones still work and many new ones like these.

One day we went on a 20 minute train ride to Haarlem.   It is a much smaller city than Amsterdam.   A very clean and nice walking town.    We had lunch outside in the square and walked around the town.

Lunch in the Haarlem City Square. You can share with the pigeons.

It was interesting seeing how the bicyclists observed (or not) the walking only streets.    The conservative bikers got off and walked their bikes.   Some younger ones zoomed along dodging pedestrians.   The mildly rebellious stood on one pedal and pushed the bike like a scooter.    Interesting.  What would you or I do?

This is the Ten Boom house just as it was used in the Dutch Resistance as a hiding and smuggling station for Jews in WWII. The watch shop is still operating on the ground floor with living quarters above. You can see the one bicyclist obeying the walking only street signs. Like most, but not all.

We could see that boating around on the many canals would be fun.   We thought of our friends Steve and Debbie.  I’m sure they’ll be on Netherlands canals one of these days.

One thing we wanted to see in Haarlem was the Corrie Ten Boom house and museum.   The Ten Boom family had been part of the Dutch Resistance in World War II.   They hid and transported many Jews and others who were being hunted by the Nazi regime.   Over 800 people went thru their house before they were caught and sent to concentration camps.

She is stepping out of the hiding place thru a cutaway that was added later. An architect was retained to make a false wall with a space behind it. When the Nazis came, there were several in the hiding place. They remained quiet for 47 hours and finally escaped through the roof. Can you see the entrance? The Nazis couldn't either.

Corrie was the only one of the family to survive the camps and spent the next 40 years speaking and writing about her experience.   The movie “The Hiding Place” is about their experiences hiding Jews from the Nazis and in the camps after their capture.     The original house with the Hiding Place is open as a museum.   The downstairs is still the Ten Boom Watchmakers store, which was papa Ten Boom’s occupation.

Entry door to the Hiding Place

It was interesting reading reviews in Trip Advisor before we went.   Some people felt that the message was too evangelistic for them … and some Jewish visitors felt their history was being exploited.    With our particular tour guide, we saw no validity for either of those complaints.   There were some Jewish people on the tour and they seemed pleased and added some commentary.    The message by the volunteer tour guide was simply what these people did and that they risked their lives to follow Jesus teaching to help people and resist evil.

This is what you see in the alley. It will tell you what time the next tour in your language will be.

One example that she shared was that Papa Ten Boom, the watchmaker, would have been allowed to stay in his home because he was over 80 years old.  The only requirement was that he must promise not to smuggle any more Jews.    He said, “If someone comes to me and needs my help, I will help them”    The SS officer said, “OK then, You go with the rest of them.”  and he was loaded onto the train to the camps.   With the harsh treatment he was dead in two weeks.   People of any faith can recognize that as the actions of true faith, not a faith of convenience.

One other example that would test anyone’s faith came later when Corrie was speaking and sharing her testimony and a man came out of the audience.  She recognized him as the guard who had beat her and her sister in the concentration camps.   He had become a Christian and  had found forgiveness from God, but was now asking for her forgiveness.   She prayed and said, “God, I can’t do this.  You need to help me.”    And he did.    Isn’t that what God is about.  Doing the impossible.

Tours are an hour long and limited to 25 people due to the tight quarters.

There are no reservations so the first thing to do is go to the house and a sign will say when the next tour in your language will be.  Then go about 50 yards to the city square for lunch or go walk along the canals.

In the Ten Boom Living Room. Our tour guide, on the stool was a volunteer who did an excellent job explaining the part that Corrie and this house played in the Dutch Resistance in WW II

There is no admission fee, but Corrie’s books are for sale in the dining room and donations are accepted.   When you are in Amsterdam for a few days, a short train trip down to Haarlem and the Corrie Ten Boom museum is definitely worthwhile.

Wien aka Vienna

We’ve been here twice before.   So the basic tours were not too attractive.    We went on some of them anyway and found this city a lot the same ….  But also continually

Looking across the Danube to the New City of Vienna.

changing and interesting enough to justify another look, especially at another time of year.  Last time we were here was the “Christmas Markets” cruise.

We skipped the Vienna Mozart Concert, having been there last time … but were able  to tell a few folks with back problems that the chairs are hard and packed in tight. (for photos, see previous blog & albums)

Church right across the street from where the River Ships dock.

This is truly a case where the people in charge are resting on laurels of previous generations and they dont care much for the comfort of the consumer… they figure it was good enough in the 1800’s … it’’s good enough for today.   And there’s no competition … yet. Since every single person complained of the hard chairs and tight quarters … I’ll bet a place with good accoustics and comfortable chairs  would do very well here.

Gustav Klimpt exhibition at the Belvedere Palace.  

His art was a departure from the type of works popular in the late 1800’s in Europe … bringing a greater sensuality to his works and forgoing all depth perspective except on the subject.    The conservative art critics were harsh and unaccepting of this new style.

Headquarters of the Secession movement of modern artists started by Gustav Klempt ... still in use today.

So Klimpt withdrew from the Artists Union and  became the leader of the Secession movement of European Artists from the Snobbish Circle of Artists of the 19th century.   Historians consider him the father of Modern Art.   See the famous Art Nouveau building that still houses his Association

"The Kiss" was Klempt's first piece of this style that caused an uproar in European Art Circles.

Another example of Klempt's "Golden Period"

Some facts we learned about him: He avoided the social scene & stayed to himself & never gave interviews.  He travelled only for art inspiration, one of which were early Christian Mosaics.  He worked hard, morning till nite … His only social outlet was his artist’s secessionst group which he continued with his whole life.  And his female models…  With whom he fathered 14 children.  He never married, but had one life long companion, who historians think was possibly lesbian.

There are several more examples of his work in the Photo Album.   Pull down “Photos” on the banner menu and then choose Vienna 2012.   Some of these works have recently sold for over $50,000,000.00 apiece!

Prince Eugene.

Physically weak and unattractive, Eugene was rejected by the French for military service, but he was determined on a military career, so he moved to Austria and became their most famous and undefeated General.

Prince Eugene of Savoy, Austria's ugly but undefeated general.

He was never defeated by the Turks, even when confronted with much larger armies.   Turns out he was a military genius, gathering his captains the night before and making plans and alternate plans.   In battle, he would start in one direction, then after the Turks had ordered their counter attack, he would have the Austrian army completely change directions.   And with these tactics, his forces were never defeated.   “Blessed are the Flexible…..”

The Vienna Ferris Wheel

has been a landmark for nearly 100 years.   It takes  20 minutes  to make the complete circle and the cabins carry 15 people.

The Vienna Ferris Wheel. Each car holds 15 people and the cycle takes 20 minutes.

People have done unique things in those 20 minutes …  have a meal,   get married… ??

The National Library   

The National Library houses one of the largest collections in the world … Over 8 million volumes …many of which are very old, even a large papyrus collection.   To access these old books you must be a certified academic and can only read the books in a special reading room and wear gloves.

One of 70 posters marketing Austrian Tourism in the early 20th century.

There was an exhibit of austrian tourism posters from 1900 – 1970.   After that, television and other media replaced the poster, but it was interesting to see the development of the number one method of tourism marketing in the first half of the 20th century.

Our guide had a masters degree in art history, and was a good story teller.   On tours like this the  local guides make or break the value of the tour.   Uniworld does a good job of selecting their local guides.

Here our guide is doing a sound check before we head into town ... with the earpiece that we have in one ear ... so that we dont have to stay tightly bunched and they dont have to shout.

Most had advanced degrees and were passionate about their city and country.   Stuff that’s pretty hard to get from just a guidebook.    In asking this Vienna guide about all the graffiti, she said it was mainly just youths, not so much gangs, like in some US cities.  She said that the authorities dont do much about petty crimes because they dont want to be seen as “harsh”    Even the ordinance requiring dog owners to clean up their dog poop … the city refused to enforce … until a mother got tired of it and got 145,000 signatures.  Only then would the city begin to enforce the law.  All for not wanting to be seen as harsh & authoritarian.   Perhaps understandable after a heavy dosage of harshness under Hitler and Communism …. Interesting.

In addition "George" our keyboardist, Local talent came on board when we were in towns for the evening.

On Board Entertainment.

The on board entertainment is at the opposite end of the spectrum compared to the big Ocean Cruise ships.   Where they have lots of options every night, the river cruise ships usually have a keyboardist who plays every afternoon and evening.   Except when special local folklore groups come on board and play.   Most people come on river cruises for the destinations rather than the entertainment and after the tours and free time roaming, dont need a lot of entertaining.   There are also special lecturers on topics of interest … like our History professor who gave a great lecture on the war(s) in the Balkans including the recent Kosovo war.    She used the metaphor of making a stew, using many ingredients, mixed in over time, with lot’s of stirring, and pressure.   It was a good overview of 1500 years of history of this area.   One fact that was new to me was that the Turkish Sultans maintained a level of religeous tolerance.

The subway is easy to use and is perhaps the cleanest we've been in.

They didn’t even want full conversion to Islam … because the Christians and Jews were taxed higher and had to do the less desireable jobs.   Like defend the frontier and fight in the Sultan’s army.   So changing religeons became for some a matter of expedience that would change with the many regime changes this crossroads area has seen over the centuries.    Our historian suggested that the “corruption” that Eastern European countries are known for is an extension of the people’s skill at working outside normal channels that they have developed in order to survive the many changes over these many centuries.


Like the Entertainment, the dining is limited.   There are no specialty restaurants like on the big ships.  But the food onboard Uniworld ships has been excellent.    Our chef on the River Princess was from Portugal and had trained in France and Italy.   He favored Italy and it showed in his offerings.

George and Lianna, two doctors from Rumania. She was the official doctor. He and I were protecting our wives from pirates. ... And having a good holiday!

Perhaps the best thing about the dining room is that it’s the place where you meet people from all over the world.   This trip we met a lot of people from Australia, Canada and England, as well as from lots of places in the US.     We met the the ship’s doctors, who we shared several dinners and bus rides with.    Lianna was an internist from Rumania as the official doctor on board.  Her husband George was also a doctor, a psychiatrist who came along … kind of like me.    We joked that in both our cases, Uniworld was getting two for the price of one …. And that George could fix us if the tour got stressfull.


A trip to downtown Vienna wouldn't be complete without a look at St Stephen's Cathedral. It's over 1000 years old ... and eternally now in maintenance and cleaning on the exterior.

Hungary is Horse Country

Hungarians are crazy about their horses.   Many city dwellers even have horses which they board on farms outside of town.    Children have horse riding lessons and there are many races and equestrian competitions each year.

We learned that the Huns came down from Mongolia and settled in this area several centuries ago … but kept their horse riding traditions, and contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire.    They were from time to time part of the Austrian Hapsburg empire, the Turks and sometimes independent … as they are now, as part of the European Union.

Roman aqueduct seen thru our bus window

Hungary is definitely a unique and different people group from its neighbors.


We visited a horse farm and were treated to a Hungarian Horse Show.   The farm was on a huge island in the middle of the Danube River.   It had been thoroughly settled by the Romans in the 2nd century and ruins from Roman times are plentiful.   The Danube was the extent of the permanent Roman Empire.    Beyond that were “the Barbarians”


There are more photos from the horse show in the Photo Album.  Click Photos in the menu bar and select the area of the tour from the pull down menu.


Hall Of Terror: A “Must See” for Communist Sympathizers

We had already been on the included tour so Luelle and I went on Missions in Budapest.  She to find a Thai massage,  Me to find the Apple store and go thru the Hall of Terror, the museum of Nazi and Communist terror.

The Hall of Terror had been used by the Nazis until their defeat in WWII. Then the USSR took over the building and continued the Terror. The museum shows the techniques and victims of both totalitarian regimes.

The Thai massage was great … as was the Apple store, which had what I wanted and looked a lot like the Apple stores I go to in  Fresno and Reston.

The Hall of Terror wasn’t nice or like anything I had seen.   It turns out that it was only a few blocks further down Andrassy Avenue from the Apple store.   It is a memorial to all the victims of the Nazi and Communist secret services which opperated out of this building.

A tank is displayed in front of the wall of faces. The display starts on the second floor and descends into the basement.

Thousands were interogated, tortured, and killed or sent to concentration camps from this center.

Names and photos of victims are on display as well as renovated torture cells and command offices and hundreds of photos and live TV footage.    Mock trials with people being sentenced to death and huge parades with adulation of the leaders, etc.

I noticed two categories of tourists with reactions at opposite ends of the spectrum:

There were groups of students who were on a field trip with their class mates.   This group seemed like they were on any other field trip: chatting with each other, etc.

Then there were people who were searching for a relative on that wall of faces.   They were somber and some had tears streaming down their faces.

A torture cell, complete with whips. Other rooms had electrical connections and waffle iron like devices for extracting confessions and information

Of course there was also the largest group of all, the 99% who will never visit a memorial like this … and therefore miss the message that screams out … to those who can hear.

The Nazi’s had used this building on the prestigious Andrassy St for their interrogation and torture headquarters.   Thousands of Jews were rounded up, processed and sent to death camps from here.

When the Nazis were defeated, Hungary was considered a loser because they had originally supported Hitler. USSR was on the winning side in WWII, so they were chosen to take over the administration of Hungary.   The building on Andrassy St suited them perfectly so they continued on with the same torture and interrogation and terror that the Nazis had used.

Propaganda posters depicting happy and wealthy communists

They added a huge Big Brother watching system where informants were encouraged to turn in their friends and neighbors for the slightest word against the Communist regime.   By the time it was over, one family out of every three had a victim of the Nazi and Communist Torture Machine.


On the plane over here, I read in the USA Today about some Greeks who are unhappy with the austerity measures needed in their country.

Live footage of this Hungarian being sentenced to death after his "show trial" complete with false witnesses and a pre-determined outcome.

One interviewees reaction was to leave the Socialist Party in favor of the Communist Party.   Ugh!!   Will we never learn from history?    Actually we do learn …That the only thing we learn from history is that we dont learn from history.

This sculpture is at the end of the Hall of Terror. The viewer is left to make their own conclusions.

But for anyone who wants to hear it, the message is loud and clear about the results of these types of totalitarian governments.




Was she just posing?

The rest of my DIY tour was happier. The Apple Store is always a happy place... only a few blocks down Andrassy Street from the Hall of Terror.

Croatian Countryside & Belgrade, The Capital

This particular side trip was led by a young man, Marco.   He showed us a lot of war damage from the 1991 war.  About 90% of it is restored now.

All the tours feature local guides. Here Marco is showing the historical events that happened in this Square.

Many western and other nations sent aid money and most of the country looks new … with some old buildings that were not bombed, along with the rest of the ones that are waiting to be re-built.

Machine Gun and Mortar Fire remnants on this building ... 20 years later. It's still waiting for renovation ... or maybe it's being kept this way as a reminder - not to do that again. Not a bad idea!

Some wont ever be re-built as the small towns are mostly being “de-populated” … As the younger people are moving into the big cities.   It is the same thing that happens in Middle American small towns that were centered around the family farm.   We stopped at a large home that had a special room and they served local snacks along with the specialty of the area, a plum brandy, that was about 100 proof.

Our host posing with a Buso mask.

They said it could be used as an antibiotic … and the ship’s doctor who was with us smiled and confirmed that if you had bad bugs, that it would kill them!   That’s also where we learned of the legend of the Buso masks, the Buso marches and parades that continue to this day.    Every year the Buso parade is the single biggest tourist and civic event of the year.   People dress up in masks, commemorating, as legend has it, the time when 600 young displaced Hungarians dressed up in scary masks and chased the Turks out of their country after 160 years.   The actual history is a little different, requiring the army of Russia and the Hapsburgs to accomplish that task … but the legend makes for a better festival  and the locality has made it the centerpiece of their tourism.

Reminds me of my girls back home.

It turns out that the home had just been finished two weeks before by Marco and his parents, who had purpose built it to entertain tour bus loads of tourists.   Kind of like a Bed and Breakfast.   We were then treated to a country lunch prepared by another local family … who were also a certified B&B.   The lunch was good.   The farmer and his wife spoke no English and we spoke no Hungarian.   But with a little interpretation and good food, plenty of communication was able to happen.    They had a little farm with some chickens, goats and a few pigs as well as about an acre of garden.

The War Memorial alongside the Danube River, Commemorating all the lives lost in the recent war.

Marco showed us a shoe factory where his grandfather had worked during the Communist time.   Marco remembers his grandfather saying about work in that place, “ We pretended to work … And they pretended to pay us.”     When asked, he said that the preference for Communism and the present system is split.  Especially some of the older people preferred Communism.

Current Borders in Eastern Europe

Currently there is about 30% unemployment.   In communism, there was no unemployment.   Whereas that 30%  who are now unemployed … In communism they would all be “employed” – with the famous ineficiency.   On that tour we also saw some early “indoor plumbing”   It was a hole in the floor of a second or third floor overhanging room.   It was more for safety and not having to go outside than the sanitation aspect.   But for 300 years ago, I suppose it was ahead of its time.     Belgrade This is a beautiful town at the confluence of two rivers,  The Danube and Sava rivers join here.    Unfortunately that made this a prize city for the warring leaders throughout the last several milenia.   Belgrade is in the middle, between the East and the West, so from time to time lot’s of generals thought that their country should control it.    The city was the site of 600 major battles and was overthrown 44 times in the modern era, resulting in over 6 million deaths … just in that one city.   This trip is alerting me to how bloody and inhuman us humans can be.

Blog Observations: The Communist Era And It’s Aftermath

Religion, Culture, Politics & History

Going through all these countries and getting off the ship and going into town and talking with the local guides and the local people in the streets gives a perspective unavailable by just reading about it … or especially by just watching the soundbites on CNN.

Thousands of Icons and frescos adorn the interior of this church

The first thing I noticed was the difference between Turkey and Romania, right next door.   Turkey is 99% Muslim, whereas Romania is 85% Greek Orthodox.  The countries developed along with their religions and when politicians, dictators, kings and conquorers tried to take over a land and force a religion change … it never worked out very well.

Orthodox Church Exterior.

Forced conversions usually lead to heretical versions of the original … plus wars, persecution and human misery.

In Bulgaria, the Ottoman Turks took over and the country was Moslem for 500 years, but there was always a remnant of Orthodox Christians.  Rather than totally outlawing the religion, the Christians were taxed extra and forced into less desirable occupations.

The Circle of Life Fresco with the 12 Zodiac signs and the wide trail to Hell.

Also they were not allowed to build cathedrals or buildings that look like churches.   This rule applied to the outside of the buildings, but not the inside, So we went to a church that looked like a warehouse on the outside … but it had over 4000 icons and frescos on the inside.   You can “see” most of the Bible in the pictures.   These icons and frescos transmitted the faith from generation to generation through all the centuries when few people could read the written scriptures.   See photos.

In that church tour we were treated to an acapella choir who did Gregorian music.   And a “church lady” who explained many of the icons and frescos to us.   She was very good and with her explanation, you could see many of the familiar Bible stories.

The one thing that seemed to be missing,  was the New Testament doctrine of grace and forgiveness.   Perhaps it’s just a difficult concept to put into a painting.   Think about it,  How would you paint Grace without any words or captions?

But the church lady’s conclusion from the icons was that you need to work hard to be good and if you did, you would go to heaven and if not you would go straight to Hell …  (See the circle of life photo … which doesn’t leave room for the Biblical understanding of redemption and grace for all the prodigals who fall short of perfection … (like me.)


Danube Sailing after leaving Bulgaria, Serbia on one side and Romania on the other.

White Limestone cliffs along the Danube. The trees are all re-forestation and many are considered "invasive" ... being where they dont belong. The government is trying to plant back the original species ... but it is a huge project and not at the top of the list in these economic times.

June 8, 2012 …The Danube is a lot wider here than up closer to its headwaters like we’ve seen in Germany and Austria.   The captain says this is the Golden Depth … not too high, not too low.    So we make it under the bridges easily and dont hit the bottom.

Like a "Mile Marker" It's a Kilometer marker ... We are 966 km from where the Danube dumps into the Black Sea.

There are few bridges here … we go many miles between bridges … perhaps a measure of the relative prosperity … more in the West, less in the East… where Communism was.

Some facts from the Captain’s Nautical talk.

The ship is a little longer than a football field.

If built today, it would cost about $30 million Euros

The River Princess was born in 2001

Our Captain was born in 1967… Both in the Netherlands.

His mother and father were captains.   He grew up on a river ship.

He has been captaining the River Princess for seven years.

His work schedule is 4 weeks on, 2 weeks off.

He has a home in Germany and also Budapest, where his wife is from.

He is a “European” comfortable to live and work anywhere in Europe.When going through locks, the captain leaves his control room and moves to an auxiliary control station at the side where he can look over and see the inches of clearance.

River Princess has just been renovated….Uniworld renovates all their ships every 4 years.

2 1100 horsepower Duetz diesel engines … They consume about 105 gallons of diesel fuel per hour at full throttle.   Each powers a rotatable prop.   Those rotatable props steer the ship.   There are no rudders.   A joy stick controls the propellers … No conventional steering wheel.

The marker system on the rivers of Europe is opposite of the US: … “Red-Right-Returning,” which I learned in the US Navy.


Iron Gate Lock and Hydro project1964 – 1972   

We just went thru the first of the “Iron Gate” locks.   See photo.  These locks are a lot wider than the ones up river and in France.  These will take a lot wider ship or barges doubled up.

A Yugoslavian and Romanian project embarked on by their dictators at that time.  It created a reservoir that inundated towns and villages 100 kilometers up river.  25,000 people had to be re-located.    New towns are called New_______ … New Moldova etc.

This church on the (formerly) treacherous part of the Danube is home of the patron saint of sailors and fishermen.

A Cliff Rock Carving of King Decebalos, who defeated the Roman invaders and kept this area for the original Serbian tribes for 40 more years. Unfortunately for them, the Romans came back with superior forces and conquered this area and made the Danube the Northern boundary of the Roman Empire.

The Iron Gate project doubled each countries hydroelectric output.   Two thousand MegaWatts, with  6 hydro turbines for Yugoslavia (Now Serbia) & 6 hydro turbines for Romania.The project was one of the largest in the world.  The lock has two stages, each of which raise the boat about 45 feet.      That 90 feet of elevation takes out many dangerous rapids and sand bars.   What used to take 4 days with a lot of danger and lost cargo  & ships and lives … now is a gentle sail of only a few hours.


Istanbul to Vienna, Istanbul, Turkey

Day 1, Istanbul, Turkey

Getting to Istanbul was a study in airports, airlines and airplanes.  We love our Dulles airport.   But Frankfurt is a great airport also.   And in the European tradition, it is also a shopping mall,  more so than American airports.

This is what you hope to see when you emerge from Passport Control. We’ve always been met by courteous informative guides who get us to our ship or hotel. The short wait for the others to gather allows time to meet the shipmates for the week.

Finally the Istanbul airport was also very efficient … even at scalping the tourists for the “Visa” tax.   It was interesting which countries were required to purchase visas for $20 … all the Western Countries.   China and Russia were not.  Nor was Japan.  But India and South Africa were. ???   Oh well.

Istanbul was Constantinople until the 1400’s. Before that it was an important part of the Roman Empire. Here their engineering skills are seen in this aqueduct.

I wrote my first Feedback Letter to an Airline and an Airline pilot.  We were in business class, (which Luelle always tries to upgrade to with airline miles when we are going across oceans)  and the seats were in the worst repair we’ve ever seen.   We sat an extra 30 minutes, waiting for the captain to arrive?!?   Then I found my head phones in a sealed bag but in pieces.   I like MacGyver projects so, no problem…  Luelle’s didn’t work at all.   Nor did her light. Or her TV screen.  The light was stuck “on” like an interrogation light, the only one on in the cabin on this overnight flight.   As I gave my comments to our cabin hostess, her eyes lit up when I directed her to the part about the excellent meal and service from the cabin staff.   They were great.   This airline just has a serious problem in middle management.   They dont really get it about customer delight, and  the little things can send customers searching for alternatives.   As a clue, this is the largest airline in the world … Maybe too large to care about customers?

Wow! These Turks really know how to barbecue. And then serve it up and keep it hot. Actually this is just about the same as Armenian cuisine, which we are very familiar with. Armenia is Turkey’s next door neighbor.

We bussed from the airport to our downtown hotel, right in the middle of the “Old City” just a few blocks from the famous bazaar.  (pics tomorrow)   Along the way we saw Roman aqueducts and Moslem mosques … although we were told that Turkey is a secular state.

Of course you know that my main job (Dave’s) is protecting Luelle from pirates.    But if I happen to see things of interest to Home Performance and Building Science I feel obligated to snap a photo or two.   How many Mini-Splits do you see in this one?

Mini Split Air Conditioners and Heat Pumps is how the whole rest of the world beside the US, heats and cools

Tomorrow we’ll tour Istanbul and sail on the Bosphorus.   Stay tuned.


Day 2, Istanbul, Turkey

Today we wore ourselves out … so I’m just putting up some photos.   We went to several mosques and museums. Then sailed on the Bosphorus.  And then went out to dinner and a show, getting back around midnight.   Too much.   We have a lighter itinerary tomorrow, so I’ll catch up.

Belly Dancing was originally for the Sultans. Now for tourists too.

Day 3, Istanbul, Turkey

A new and an old obelisk at the Hippodrome.

Today we saw the Hippodrome and the inside of a couple of mosques.    The Hippodrome features relics from Greek and Roman times.

The Blue Mosque is a large practicing mosque which was built in the 17th century.   There are similarities and differences between the large Christian cathedrals and the large Moslem mosques.

Women worship separately from men.

The stone construction is similar … and they both ask for donations to keep them maintained.

The one big difference is the lack of pews and seating in the mosques.   In the mosque worship service you are either standing or kneeling … no time for sitting so no need for seating.

Ceramic tiles and stained glass give the name “Blue Mosque”

BTW the Blue Mosque is called Blue because of the beautiful blue ceramic coverings inside the building.


St Sofia is an even older and larger mosque only a few hundred yards away.   It was built in the 5th century as a Greek Orthodox Church and remained the largest temple in the world for over a thousand years.    It was hastily converted to a mosque with the arrival of the Ottomans who added minarets to the structure and plastered over the Christian mosaics.   (a few of which have been uncovered and are now on display)

Justinian and Constantine are offering gifts to Mary and Jesus in this mosaic from the time when the mosque was a Greek Orthodox Church.

With the inception of the Republic of Turkey, which is the only secular Moslem nation,  (meaning separation of church and state)  St Sofia and some other landmarks were turned into public museums.


Our guide informed us that while 99% of the population of 75 million list themselves as Muslim, only about 7% are “devout” which means they do prayers toward Mecca 5 times a day.

St Sofia with the added on minarets

Also interesting is that with the beginning of the Republic in 1923, the official language and the school language was changed and unified to Turkish from Arabic and many other dialects.    The prayers, however, are still done in Arabic,  kind of like the Catholic church did for many years with Latin … when no one knew Latin anymore.

Driving under a real Roman Aqueduct from the 5th century. I dont think our current canals and dams will last that long! Do you?

Our guide says that he and his friends dont know what they are praying anymore as only a few older people know Arabic anymore.   Interesting.



BTW There are 57 more photos of this part of the trip in Albums.  Go to the pull down menu “Photo Albums” and select the Istanbul to Vienna album.    The same photos are on the Facebook Page.   Email me if you are having trouble viewing or have suggestions on improving Luelle’s site.     …  Dave


Day 4, Bucharest, Romania

Istanbul is on the Black Sea, but a long way from where the Danube River empties.   So we got on a plane and flew to Bucharest, the capital of Romania.    After touring Bucharest it was a short bus drive to actually begin our cruise on the Danube River on the River Princess.

The cabins on the River Princess have all been completely renovated and will be a comfortable home for the next ten days.

This Uniworld ship has been freshly renovated … Uniworld does that every 4 years … so the interior is all brand new.


The drive from the airport to Bucharest and then to the River was interesting … mainly because our guide was an older gentleman who had lived through the communist times and was very eloquent at sharing about life under communism, the revolution, joining the EU and life today in Romania.   We learned that Romania had been the bread basket of Europe before the communist 45 year experience.

The Rumanian Parliament, still the second largest building in the world.

The communism in each of these satellite countries was flavored by their respective leaders.   In Rumania it was Nicolae Ceausescu.  It seems that he became more and more disconnected from reality as his reign went on.    Two of his actions were concluding that Rumania needed more workers so he tried to force women to have more babies.   This led to orphanage overload.   Now I know why so many were involved in adopting Rumanian children.

As the economy dwindled and people were starving,  Ceausescu ordered the construction of the largest building in the world for his parliament.    The parliament is there, but it is still half empty.

A sculpture making a satirical comment about about Ceausescu and Communism.

His people finally got tired of starving and being lied to, and overthrew him in December of 1989.   They captured him and after a hurried trial executed him by firing squad.


A Day In Vienna

A Day In Vienna

Vienna  is a very old city.  It was a Roman outpost about 2000 years ago and the fortifications of that military fort remained in use until just a ‘‘few” years ago.   In 1857 the Roman walls began to be torn down and the city’s most prestigeous address, the “Ring Road” was built in its place.   It was a 50 year construction project to replace the Roman walls with the Ring Road and the mini-palaces of Vienna’s wealthy.  Many of these 5 story homes are embassies today.   The National Opera House was the first public building completed on the Ring Road and is still one of the largest Opera Houses in the world.   The area inside the ring is the first district of 23 districts.   We learned that the further outside the ring you are … the more apartment you can afford.   Of the two million people in Vienna,  500,000 live in Super Blocks consisting of hundreds of apartment units, mostly built in the Soviet era.   Those earning less than 40,000 Euros can qualify for one of these….

Our tour of Vienna was half on the bus, with our guide, who was a history teacher, providing dialogue like the above … and half free time, walking around in the downtown area.   It was so cold that many joined me in a warmer experience, the Viennese Coffee House.   They really do make coffee two dozen ways and charge plenty for it.   My “Mozart Coffee”  which was coffee with some chocolate was 7 Euros.   They had newspapers on sticks and people doing business and writing … some with modern gear, but some with old style notebooks.    Maybe I watched a famous novel being born?    At another coffee house nearby, it was said that three young nobodies met for coffee,  Hitler, Stalin, & Tito.   They must have put some bad stuff in that coffee?

An interesting comparison that our guide made is that between Austria and Germany.   They both speak German, but Germany looks West to power, while Austria looks East, to Russia to power.   This may be because Russia helped liberate Austria from Germany … and also that Russia can turn off the gas, both natural and petrol.

Another comparison was between Vienna and the Hungarian capital of Budapest.   Vienna is prosperous with unemployment at less than 4%, plenty of money for public works and renovations, while Budapest is out of money, in disrepair, and even turning off some of the street lights.   Part of this is because Austria is now a “neutral” nation … it does not participate in NATO etc.   So there is more money for social programs and infrastructure.   Education is free all the way through University and Unemployment payments of $700 Euros is among the highest in Europe.  Germany is $400E, for example.   The free tuition leads to a large student population … over 100,000 in 15 universities in the city.   Where all the graduates will find jobs … that’s the same question that many of their American counterparts are asking in these turbulent times when the rules seem to have changed.

Another point of interest is that Austria’s neutrality since the end of WWII does not deter it from pursuing its long history of weapons manufacturing.    Being neutral allows Austria to sell to all buyers.   Your local police officer probably carries an Austrian Glock automatic and many countries buy weapons, large and small from Austria.

Here are the rest of the photos from this trip.   Click on any thumbnail to enlarge it … then use arrows or arrow keys … or you can view them all as a slideshow.     Let me know if you have trouble viewing …  Dave Robinson      

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